Over the course of the last month, the Sounders FC defense has been on lockdown.
In the club’s current seven-match unbeaten streak, Seattle has allowed just three goals for a 0.43 goals against average. With a defense like that, it’s no wonder Sounders FC is talking about making a run at the Supporters’ Shield in the final month of the MLS regular season. At the center of it all has been defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado.
“Jhon is playing great soccer at the moment,” said goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who has the best view of Hurtado’s defensive prowess, safely in front of the Seattle net.
Hurtado has started in all but one of Seattle’s last seven matches, reacquiring the biting tackles and aggressive ball-winning that earned him recognition as a finalist for the 2009 MLS Defender of the Year award.
A torn ACL during the 2010 season derailed Hurtado and while he was able to return to the field for the 2011 season and play 23 matches, he wasn’t able to rekindle that 2009 form. Even in 2012, he was a stalwart for Seattle’s defense, appearing in 37 of 49 matches across all competitions.
This year, he kept his form over the first half of the season. Suddenly, though, something changed in the 29-year-old Colombian.
Osvaldo Alonso, for one, has noticed the change in his close friend and teammate.
“He has more confidence in himself. We know he’s a good player. He showed that his first year,” Alonso said. “For me, it’s unbelievable to know he’s behind me and he can cover me. I’m happy with the job Kennedy’s been doing lately. It’s amazing.”
With Gspurning, a finalist for the 2012 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, behind Hurtado and a 2012 MLS Best XI midfielder in Alonso in front of him, the standard has risen. As has the play of Hurtado, who has started in 20 of Seattle’s 29 matches this season.
Gspurning has been happy with Hurtado in front of him during his two years as Seattle’s goalkeeper. The camaraderie they have formed as a defense has been palpable.
“I have always had a great relationship with Jhon. It’s great that his hard work pays off. We are doing a great job in the defense,” Gspurning said. “We are stuck together as a team. Everyone tries to erase the mistakes of others. Mistakes happen in the game, but we have a commitment to stay together through thick and thin.”
Seattle has an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth with a victory on Saturday against the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. That stern defensive stance could be important to a charge at the Supporters’ Shield and a deep run in the postseason.
“Every minute in a playoff game can be decisive and it’s even more important there to have a stable defense,” Gspurning said.
With Hurtado in the mix, it looks more and more like that won’t be a concern for Seattle.